Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Modern Day Essenes

A serious question was asked in response to my post Blaming the Victim. Here is the hypothetical scenario and the question (edited slightly for clarity):

How would you deal with someone living in the center of an isolated Charedi neighborhood, who constantly lures Charedi men to have relations with her? Speaking with her doesn't help. Must nothing be done to stop a chote u'machte es harabim – someone who sins and causes others to sin? Should people just sit on their hands and let more people get ensnared?

Although I am far from convinced that this type of scenario is typical of what causes violent depraved responses like those of Elahan Buzglo - let us assume that there is hard evidence of the kind of seductive behavior described in the hypothtical.

My post dealt with inappropriate responses. What indeed is the appropriate response?

There is no easy answer to this question. Suffice it to say that a community has the right to protect itself from negative influences. As such all legal means may be used to insure that those influences are eliminated.

However, the best way to deal with the kind of scenario suggested above is to change the mindset of isolationism that is increasingly taking hold in Charedi communities all over the world - in particular those in Israel. One needs to learn how to deal with adversity rather than hide from it.

The solution to these kinds of problems is not by sticking their heads deeper and deeper into the sand. That is over-isolation! In some people that can result in a sexual repression that can ignite lust at the drop of a hat. I believe that there is a lot of repressed sexuality in isolated Frum communities. That is why one can find Chasidim with long Peyos and even longer beards frequenting the brothels of New York - as was depicted on a Law and Order episode last night.

I’ve said this many times and I always get trashed by some of the more cynical Charedim for saying it: There has to be more exposure to the outside world. That usually gets a retort like: So… your solution for Charedim to watch porn or frequent brothels?!

That is not God forbid what I am suggesting in the slightest. Exposure is not an all ‘or nothing / black and white’ situation - which is how certain Charedim see everything. There is exposure… and there is exposure. There has to be balance between too much and too little.

By isolating oneself from all outside influences one becomes a modern day Essene. Essenes were an ancient sect of Frum isolationist Jews. They too couldn’t stand what they saw in the streets of Jerusalem in their day over 2000 years ago. They too wanted to live a life free of such influences. So they moved to a community just outside Jerusalem in order to isolate themselves from such sights. Even though they were extremely Frum Jews - Chazal frowned upon these people – and rightly so. Living like that is not the Torah ideal. Torah Jews are not mandated to withdraw from the world. We are supposed to participate in it.

We need to therefore learn how to better deal with things we don’t like. We need to learn how to better fend off temptations. This does not mean that one must watch porn everyday.

There are many Frum Jews in the US - Charedim among them - who work among non Jews every single day. They encounter all kinds of immodesty on a daily basis. There are women who come to work everyday in all manner of undress. And yet Charedi men have for the most part learned to deal with them - despite their allure.

This does not mean that that one should not avoid such daily images if possible. But it does mean that one has a better chance of avoiding lustful responses as they become used to encountering them. Most Charedim in the US working place have learned how to control their urges - and do not run for the hills as soon as they see a woman wearing a short sleeve blouse or even a tight skirt.

I am not saying that women in all Charedi communities should start dressing in promiscuous ways. I am saying that there are ways to train Charedi men to better handle the kind of situation presented in the hypothetical.

That is a long term solution. In the short term there are things that can be done. Mussar talks by every Shul Rav in that community will help. Let them speak out loud and clear about the evils of illicit sexual relations. Avoid walking on the block where she lives. Keep your children away – especially teenagers.

If that fails have the city set up surveillance cameras on her block. Let men who are seen entering her home know that their images will be captured on film taken by cameras placed in strategic areas around the woman’s house. Compile a ‘John List’ and publish names and pictures in all the Charedi papers of her visitors. But in no way should she be touched or threatened with any harm.

Again – all this assumes the facts of the hypothetical. Speculations about unproven accusations should never entail even this kind of soft harassment.